Suggestions for camping amenities from Susan Viall and her friends


My wife, Susan, and I recently returned from a tiny trailer camping trip to the Crystal Basin Area in El Dorado National Forest, about halfway between Sacramento and Lake Tahoe. It’s a lovely area, and we camped on the shore of Union Valley Reservoir with wonderful views and a fairly uncrowded campground since school is now in session and people are camping less frequently.

The challenge in Susan’s view was no real amenities other than hiking and wonderful views nearby. No resort, no restaurants, no stores, just the great high Sierra and marvelous weather. That, and a good book, would cover me for several days.

Hence, I asked her what she and her female friends rank as requirements for luxury travel on a budget. We both enjoy occasional multi-day or week long visits to hotels in special places, as we did in Lake Tahoe about six weeks ago, but our budget does not support such a regular travel lifestyle. Susan consulted with several traveling buddies and came up with the following:

• Comfort, both in sleeping and living accommodations:  

• Full campground amenities: Nice bathrooms and public showers in campgrounds are a must for more than several-day stops.

• Nearby additional amenities: Such as a town with shopping, restaurants and additional nighttime activities, as well as natural attractions.

For comfort, both small trailers and SUV conversions offer comfort and pleasant daytime living options, for couples or small families. Our little trailer can sleep three adults, but gets very cramped with more than two people.

Somewhat larger trailers offer more sleeping accommodations as well as room to stretch out, a kitchen you can move around in, a dinette table and more. We recently purchased a tent room addition, that connects directly to a trailer or the back end of an SUV yielding a fairly comfy, 10 x 10 room daytime space, privacy and protection from weather.

For camping destinations offering both nice campgrounds and a memorable town with additional amenities, our favorites include:

• Highway 4: east of Murphy’s and up to Bear Valley resort, with nice campgrounds and towns like Murphy’s offering a host of shopping, restaurant and additional activities tied to nearby wineries. Bear Valley Resort offers the same type of options, 30 miles further up, while Calaveras Big Trees State Park offers an extra special place along the highway.

• Highway 108: from Twain Harte all the way to Kennedy Meadows Resort near Sonora Pass. A number of nice campgrounds, some with showers, and special resort towns such as Twain Harte and Pinecrest offering restaurants and shopping. Dodge Ridge Resort, three miles above Pinecrest recently adding mountain biking, disc golf and summer activities to winter skiing, adds a new dimension.

• Lake Tahoe near South Lake Tahoe: with a number of nice federal and state campgrounds and the bustling town of South Lake Tahoe offering plenty of shopping, numerous nice restaurants and a host of nighttime activities including shows, plays, night spots and gambling.

• The California coast from Bodega Bay North to Fort Bragg and Mendocino: with a host of county and federal campgrounds, and towns like Bodega Bay, Jenner, Fort Bragg and Mendocino offering restaurants, shopping and coastal activities. Of course, the lovely Pacific stretching out nearby, and generally mild weather, is an additional major benefit.

• June Lakes/Mammoth Lakes area in the eastern Sierra: offering stunningly scenic campgrounds and very cool resort towns of June Lakes and Mammoth Lakes. Nearby ghost town Bodie, eerie Mono Lake, Devil’s Postpile National Monument, special attractions in addition to the towering Sierra, make for life-memories.

For tiny trailers or SUV camping Susan and her friends suggested a trailer or SUV with indoor plumbing, which our little classic Scotty does not offer. Hence we attempt to camp close to the campground bathroom. If we were purchasing a newer trailer, we’d look for one with an indoor bathroom or at least room for Porta Potty. With a newer small trailer, we would search for a larger camper, with sleeping options for four adults.

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic driving interest and rising prices of camping trailers, the time to find a relatively good buy is the fall and winter on either new or slightly used trailers. Trailers owned by friends, and confirmed by owners we chat with in campgrounds, that are well-built and have style include T@B, Casita, R-pod and A-Liner trailers, all small enough to be towed behind smaller SUVs and pickups and still yield fairly decent gas mileage when being towed. Don’t discount that mid-size to larger SUVs can be tailored to sleep two comfortably, though a detachable tent makes for needed extra space.

If you fancy classic trailers, like our 1964 Serro Scotty, scan Craigslist or Facebook Market place for Scotty, Shasta, Little Caesar models, or just search for “classic trailer”. Be forewarned; a good, rebuilt classic can cost as much as a new trailer, and owners are good at papering over challenges such as dry rot – so be prepared for a thorough inspection. Rebuilding one, as we did with ours, took about 500 hours and $5,000 – I would not want another project of that complexity.

For more information: for used trailers, shop Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace or eBay, or shop local trailer dealers and websites of your favorite classic or new trailers.

Contact Tim Viallat; happy, comfortable camping.


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